Improved Early War British Tanks?

So, bored and desperate for something to do…what about an improved British tank for early-mid WWII? This is partly prompted by discussions in –

https://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/threads/british-army-create-a-universal-tank-class.464269/

and also The Chieftain’s walk around the A10 Cruiser -

and


Arguably the best overall early war tank is the German Pzkpfw III. The now (then) standard five man crew, reasonably well armoured and armed, particularly with the later 50mm KwK38 and 39.

In comparison, and leaving aside the light tanks and Matilda A11, the British had a mix of Infantry and Cruiser tanks armed with either the OQF 2pdr with AP shot or the 3”/3.7” howitzer for close support, but with smoke only. Could this have been changed and what would be the butterflies?

The 2pdr was adopted for tank and antitank use in 1935. At about the same time the British army was also looking at the Czech ZB53 and ZB26/ZGB30/33 machineguns, which were adopted as the BESA and Bren. But in 1936, design started on the Skoda 4.7cm KPUV vz.38. As an anti-tank gun, the vz.38 was lighter than the 2pdr, although I don’t know how this would translate to a tank gun. It had better penetration than the 2pdr, at least with the original AP shot, and also had an HE shell. It was adopted by Czechoslovakia and later also used by the Heer as the PaK38t and on the Panzerjager I. What if design and development began earlier – the Czechs were working on several tank and anti-tank guns in the thirties – and this caught the eye of the British and was put into service instead of the 2pdr?

Would this mean no requirement for separate fighting and close support tanks? What difference might this make to doctrine in the lead up to and in the early war period? The problem with the A10 heavy cruiser – similar armour to the Pzkpfw III – seems to have been reliability, but basically the same running gear was used for the Valentine, which was regarded as one of the most reliable British tanks in 1940-42, despite being heavier. The only difference I can see is that the Valentine has wider tracks.

I doubt that we would see much difference in the Battle of France, but could this have more impact in North Africa? And how would this influence British tank development?

DISCLAIMER - The only references I have are British and American Tanks of World War Two (Chamberlain and Ellis) and what I can scrounge off the Weird Wild Web. Any errors are mine and any better information appreciated.
 
In truth it depends how far you're willing to go back.

I've you've got some time to kill.


Is a good vid. Folks often talk about the British tanks here, one that often gets brought up is retaining the 47mm 3lb gun, you gain a bit more HE and don't really loose much in terms of AP capabilities. You'd have to change doctrine and the like to get rid of the silly no manlet ideas and to get them unbound by narrow tunnels which restricted tank width.
 
The British were constrained by many factors. Perhaps the most important was one of finance. Treasury was not forthcoming as far as money was concerned but even so, they still allowed the British Army to be the only fully mechanised army to enter WWII. Another factor constraining their armour forces was that of the railway loading gauge. This is the maximum size an object that is transported by train can be. It has to clear trains on opposing tracks but it also has to fit around turns and into tunnels. This is something that cannot be ignored. It determines how big a tank can be. Then perhaps the biggest factor is who was responsible for tank designs.

There was no single organisation or individual who was responsible for okaying and determining how a tank should be designed in Britain until 1944. This means that individual manufacturers who all had their own ideas put them forward and rather than over-rule them, they were basically accepted. The result was a sort of organised chaos. Indeed, it wasn't until 1944 and the design of the Centurion was a centralised design authority set up and given control of designing the tank. David Fletcher's masterful works on "The Great Tank Scandal" and "Towards a Universal Tank" are most revealing of this. There was no Ordnance Board, there was no one controlling things.

So, what would be needed would be the creation of the Tank Board before WWII. It would need to be given authority to not only design tanks but tell manufacturers what to do with their design. Then you need to rebuild a great deal of the UK's railway network and how it operated. You would need to lock most of HM Treasury away in the Tower of London. Finally, you'd need a Heinz Guderian to oversee it all.
 
The problem with the A10 heavy cruiser – similar armour to the Pzkpfw III – seems to have been reliability, but basically the same running gear was used for the Valentine, which was regarded as one of the most reliable British tanks in 1940-42, despite being heavier. The only difference I can see is that the Valentine has wider tracks
Tracks were the Achilles Heel of Brit armor until1942, from the Churchill on down to the Mk VI Light, if they didn't break outright, there was a good chance of shedding a track in a turn. More durable manganese alloy tracks took care of many of those problems. Why did it take three years, when this problem should have been identified in 1938?
<sigh>
 
Besides the 3 Pounder, another missed opportunity was in not using the Lion engine in place of the even older Liberty engine.
 
Tracks were the Achilles Heel of Brit armour until1942, from the Churchill on down to the Mk VI Light, if they didn't break outright, there was a good chance of shedding a track in a turn. More durable manganese alloy tracks took care of many of those problems. Why did it take three years, when this problem should have been identified in 1938?
<sigh>
The Germans put PzII tracks on captured British Cruiser Tanks and got much better mileage out of them and less shedding so the technology was out there.
 
I think a lot of hay could be made by (somehow) improving British experience with welding. The Crusader and Covenanter especially were let down by the weight of riveted construction, since they were planned to be welded in the first place before the factories declared they couldn't meet requirements and switched back to rivets.
An early push for the 6-pounder as standard armament over the "good enough" 2-pounder would also lead so some interesting butterflies.

Another potential POD is if British tank development had more input from the Dominions. Exercises in Canada and Australia with more room to run around in might change design assumptions. Does anyone know off-hand what the scale of military exercises were like in the 30's? A massed Empire-wide shindig in Manitoba would lead to some interesting cross-pollination of ideas, especially if the Americans were invited.
 
The Germans put PzII tracks on captured British Cruiser Tanks and got much better mileage out of them and less shedding so the technology was out there.
Yep, not rocket science, just drive tanks around in real maneuvers to see what fails.
 
Another potential POD is if British tank development had more input from the Dominions. Exercises in Canada and Australia with more room to run around in might change design assumptions. Does anyone know off-hand what the scale of military exercises were like in the 30's? A massed Empire-wide shindig in Manitoba would lead to some interesting cross-pollination of ideas, especially if the Americans were invited.
Realistic exercises in conditions harsher than Salisbury Plane can be helpful in showing up reliability issues.
 

Driftless

Donor
Realistic exercises in conditions harsher than Salisbury Plane can be helpful in showing up reliability issues.
Good point, but given the tight treasury of the era, where's a good alternative? Locations in Scotland for winter conditions could be do-able. Also, with Britains world-wide empire, you'd probably want to test in desert and jungle as well, but that will cost.
 
But the problem with a lot of similar threads is you ask for "some" improvement and end up with a Centurion in 1940. :)

If the vz.38 was adopted, you have a gun as good as the 2pdr - which was fine as an anti-tank gun against the Pzkpfw III, maximum 50mm armour - and also has an HE round, which might avoid some losses to AT guns in the desert, if the right lessons are learned. And given the number of Valentines used by 8th Army from mid-1941, you have a well armoured, reliable tank with a useful gun and with no other changes required.

Is this a war-winner? No, but it might have knock on effects in tank and tactics development?
 
Besides the 3 Pounder, another missed opportunity was in not using the Lion engine in place of the even older Liberty engine.
Where do the Lion engines come from Napiers can build you ooh maybe 2 or 3 engines a week but they are handbuilt have very little parts interchangeability and by the time you have detuned it to run in a tank you have a 350 to 400 hp engine that weighs not a lot less than a Meteor engine is taller and wider though it is shorter front to rear.

You break a piston in a Merlin or a Liberty you split the engine drop in a new piston and your good to go (well not really but its the internet) the same happens in a Lion engine you have to split the engine then a very experienced fitter selects a piston thats the closest fit from his big box of pistons and spends hours and hours lapping the piston, rings and bore to fit. The bolts holding the block, heads and crankcases together were all different lengths and of several different sizes as the designers sought to build the lightest engine in 1918 by using the lightest smallest fastener they could get away with. Even the 3 cylinder heads are different and non interchangeable.

In 1918 the Lion was a whizz of an engine but it was designed and built like a racing car engine and by 1930 the RAF had had enough and bought no more Lion engined aircraft and iirc by 1932 or 33 the Lion was out of service. The RAF tried to sell the Lions and all the spares to the Army for little more than scrap value but the Army wouldnt touch them with a 10 foot barge pole.

The Liberty was not a good tank engine though to be fair the early Cruiser tanks didnt seem to suffer too badly and most of the engine problems in the Crusader were due to cooling and air filtration failures. Pre war I think the best engine would have been a Kestrel it was getting too small for air use but was still a modern V12 which detuned could have given maybe up to 500 hp which would have sufficed for all British tanks until the Centurion it might even have fitted in the Churchill and given that tank a dazzling top speed of 18 mph or even downhill as much as 20 mph.
 
ere do the Lion engines come from Napiers can build you ooh maybe 2 or 3 engines a week but they are handbuilt have very little parts interchangeability and by the time you have detuned it to run in a tank you have a 350 to 400 hp engine that weighs not a lot less than a Meteor engine is taller and wider though it is shorter front to rear.
In 1938, there was no Liberty Engine production, just leftovers from WWI, sitting in original packing crates.
Nuffield ending up redesigning most of it, and new.tooling to make them, in any case
Napier was building new Lions for naval use
 
Napier was building new Lions for naval use
Its hard to work out how many Sea Lions were built new during wartime. The only real users were the RAF in its Rescue Launches which used 3 engines. The RAF had 130 SeaLion engined Rescue Launches in 1944 at D Day but there must have been more in service as I tally up that 249 SeaLion engined RAF Rescue Launches were built between 1936 and 1945. Possibly ones that were used as target towing vessels and seaplane tenders were not counted.
 
same happens in a Lion engine you have to split the engine then a very experienced fitter selects a piston thats the closest fit from his big box of pistons and spends hours and hours lapping the piston, rings and bore to fit. The
Funny, as RR used the same fitters for Merlin. Bits too far out of spec got tossed in the 'for Meteor use only' bin.

Packard didn't play that game, and redesigned. With US Tooling, it was interchangeable like other US efforts.
 
Funny, as RR used the same fitters for Merlin. Bits too far out of spec got tossed in the 'for Meteor use only' bin.

Packard didn't play that game, and redesigned. With US Tooling, it was interchangeable like other US efforts.
🙄 That myth has been busted so many times I am not even going to bother responding to it because it's absolute toss.
 
Funny, as RR used the same fitters for Merlin. Bits too far out of spec got tossed in the 'for Meteor use only' bin.
Packard didn't play that game, and redesigned. With US Tooling, it was interchangeable like other US efforts.
The 'hand-fitted Merlins in the UK' story is a myth, long past it's sell date, and despite flag-waving by some American wannabe-journalists. For example, RR tollerannces on Merlin were severe, half of measure of what DB prescribed for their V12 engines. Merlin production in 1940 was in the ballpark of DB 601 and Juom 211 combined, that would not be the case if the Merlins were hand-fitted.

Now for the OP. Shove the Kestrel on the Matilda II, along with suitable gearbox, and use the 3pdr Vickers (about as powerful as the Czech or French 47mm). Forget the cruiser tanks.
 
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